Honestly, it has never occurred to me to think much about the differences between a decorator and a designer, or even to consider that these might be two wholly separate professions. But apparently in some circles, using the terms interchangeably could earn one a fat lip or at least no small amount of derision. The only problem? If Brian Patrick Flynn’s* Design Happens post from late last year is any indication, there’s not much in the way of consensus when it comes to how to use the two labels appropriately. Some people in the field strongly prefer one designation while others don’t mind them being used interchangeably.
According to interior designer Michael Habachy, “Decorating is a talent — either you have it or you don’t. Design is a skill that can be learned.” Whereas interior designer Betsy Burnham feels the line falls thusly: “A decorator is someone who furnishes a house and a designer is someone who provides interior architectural details, as well as furnishings.” And decorator Nick Olsen had this to say: “I think some designers scoff at the term ‘decorator‘ because it does have a more frivolous connotation — simply picking out paint colors and fabric swatches — but it’s one I’m perfectly comfortable with.”
There are plenty of guides out there that break down the differences between interior designers and interior decorators – here’s one example – but it seems like when you go straight to the source, the people who are actually getting in there are remaking people’s interiors don’t really mind what people call them, as long as those people are willing to pay them good money for their creativity, color savvy, and understanding of what makes a great space really great. In the technical sense, an interior decorator is usually someone with great taste who works to outfit an existing space, while an interior designer is someone with some degree of architectural abilities who will transform the space itself.
I definitely recommend that you take the time to read each of the 10 short interviews because it’s a really cool glimpse into the world of interior… whatever. Just choose the word you like best for now, I suppose. Or not – this was a really interesting read, too, and did a lot to clarify just what a licensed interior designer is.
*Speaking of Mr. Flynn, I am in love with this project!